The Republicans may look like a faltering party with little chance of winning the presidency, having lost their twelve-year-long grip on Congress and sporting (polls tells us) the third least popular President ever. If we were talking about a prime-ministerial system like the UK or Germany, where party leaders tend to be established figures, already in government, this would be the case. But in the USA, this is only part of the reality. In their system, a new leader (especially in this presidential election, devoid of incumbents) can credibly distance themselves from the previous administration and often help their party in the Congressional and state elections which take place simultaneously. There is reason to believe that the Republican candidate may be able to fight the Democrat in an arena free of ties to the Bush legacy, if not free of the mixed legacy itself. Whether this will be the case depends much on the difficult relationships the hopefuls forge with the outgoing president, they must remain loyal yet critical, and close yet distant in order to retain the old supporters and in order not to turn away potential new ones by neither appearing to be lackeys nor traitors, a difficult tightrope to walk. It is this task that often makes it difficult for Vice-Presidents to win elections and has meant that two-term presidents tend to be succeeded by a politician of another party. It is, however, a tightrope that can be walked, and with the candidates as they stand, there is a good chance that it will be.
The Republican Party is faced with a very strange race, usually the tussle for nomination is between moderates and conservatives, gunning for different blocs within the Party. If, and it is a big “if”, the media-anointed front runners Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney are the only serious contenders, they will all, essentially, be appealing to the moderate wing of their party. Each is, or has been, a social liberal in a party dominated by social conservatives, and despite Romney’s heavy swing to the right and the other two following more hesitantly, will most likely remain so. In Trumpeter’s opinion, this state of affairs makes likely a Strong run from a socially conservative dark horse who ticks all the right evangelical boxes, opposing abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage and, increasingly, fighting poverty and environmental catastrophe. There could also be a similar run from a fiscal liberal, worried by the spending excesses of the Bush administration and yearning to fight the good fight against the leviathan state. Both these possibilities, if they materialised, would not go down well in the general election, in a country increasingly upset with the state of partisan politics, and paranoid about free trade. If they stick to the moderates, they have a good chance of winning the presidency, if they do not, they have very little and whatever happens, they may just lack the extraordinary strength of the Democratic field. Here is a run-down of the major Republican candidates:
Who could be better than “Americas Mayor,” the man who gave hope to a devastated city, a man who acted decisively in the face of terror and who, for a day, was the brave face of a shattered nation, for the job of uniting a divided people? This is the question posed loadedly by the Giuliani supporter. Never before has a man been able to run for the Presidency on the back of a day’s performance, but if any day were to warrant such an occurrence it would be September the eleventh, two thousand and one. If you take a look back to the day before that horror, you see a deeply unpopular mayor, nearing the end of his second term. The state legislature and city officials had had enough of his vile temper and his habit of firing chiefs and running things from his own office. Gone were the days when Rudy was known for having cleaned up the infamous graffiti-strewn walls and turned New York from one of the most dangerous places in the country to a safe and pleasant metropolis. He had pioneered a brilliant “broken windows” policy which cracked down on petty crime, committed to beautifying the city, creating an environment in which crime was no longer the norm, thus making it much rarer. He was at that time a deeply divisive figure, having failed to stop the racial tensions that had spilled over in the late Nineties. Strangely, there will be few who will look back to that day, it is as if 9/11 propelled him forward to a time when the fog of war had cleared and his tenure could be seen through the sober eyes of history, eyes that have been so kind to previous unpopular politicians like Harry Truman and Richard Nixon. He is, and will continue to be, remembered as the crime-fighting attorney-come-Mayor who saved his city and became its figurehead. In the campaign so far, Rudy has emerged as the front runner. Appealing as he does to moderate voters (New York is a predominantly Democratic city), with the vast respect his performance on 9/11 commanded, and both conservative qualities like crime-fighting and tax-cutting as well as liberal ones such as being pro-choice, pro-civil partnership and pro-gun control, he is probably, if nominated, the most formidable Republican candidate. His main stumbling block must be the nomination, as evangelical Christians, who make up a third of the Party and social conservatives who make up another large group are feverish in attacking him for supporting the “holocaust” that is abortion, living with a gay couple after his second divorce, and even dressing up like Marilyn Monroe. He has recently qualified his liberal views, stating that he hates abortion, but supports it as the lesser of two evils and claiming that, while still anti-gun in the cities, the country is an entirely different matter as well as stressing that he is only “for” civil partnership, not gay marriage. The fact that he also says states should be allowed to choose on the latter of these two issues and has effectively remained pro-abortion, this represents almost no shift. This may, however, allow him to get through, the evangelicals are on the wane or are shifting their attention to poverty and environmentalism, on which they agree with Rudy. He also faces two other candidates, McCain and Romney, whose appeal to this segment is not great, having been liberal on these “litmus test” issues at some time or other. He is Trumpeter’s choice for the Republican nomination. Though his support for the war was disappointing, he is becoming increasingly critical (only hesitantly supporting the surge) and while he was a little authoritarian, it was usually in order to drive reform through a bloated city bureaucracy. He also has an impressive record of social tolerance and plurality combined with a commitment to low tax and a limited state.
Not so long ago, the Senator from Arizona looked as though he had the nomination wrapped up; he had much the same air of inevitability that George Bush had for his run in 2000. It looks as though he peaked too early, he has fallen behind Giuliani. There is no single reason for this, the front runner often suffers in the stark spotlight, his faults become more apparent and his opponents look better in the less critical environment. For McCain, it has been a combination of his age, at 70 (72 at the next election), his strong advocacy for the troop surge (which existed well before it happened, at a time when it was less implausible) and the lack of media attention he has gathered as well as his inability to appeal to the conservative core while also not appealing to moderate Republicans as strongly as Rudy. In 2000 he ran a very strong campaign as the “anything but Bush” candidate, skipping the Iowa primary, he won New Hampshire by an 18% margin over Bush and, until losing the South Carolina primary, looked as though he may just snatch the nomination from the front runner. He appealed to the moderates in his party, calling evangelicals, most specifically Gerry Falwell (the fire-and-brimstone radio host), “agents of intolerance.” Four years later, he was seen as such a moderate figure that John Kerry, his old friend and fellow Vietnam veteran, asked him to be his running mate. In 2000, the evangelicals were in the ascendant and there were, unfortunately, not enough moderates to appeal to. This may well still be the case, especially since he now has to compete for moderates. Despite having moved to the right on social issues, opposing Roe Vs. Wade (the court decision that legalised abortion), he is still loathed by many conservatives. All this is not to say that Mr McCain does not have a chance. He is a respected veteran, always a good thing in a country with such military obsession as America, what is more, he spent five years in captivity, three in solitary confinement, in the “Hanoi Hilton,” where he was regularly tortured. This makes it hard to question his character and make him impossible to “swift boat” (the foul tactic used to question Kerry’s war record). This is, however, a little spoiled by his 2000 comment, “I hate the gooks… I will hate them as long as I live”, making him unpopular with Asians, despite his later withdrawal of this remark. To his credit, he also has a history of working with Democrats, like Ted Kennedy, and this shows he is able to move beyond the partisan politics that Americans, including Republicans, have come to hate. An increasingly vocal criticism of the way the war has been waged, including calling Don Rumsfeld “the worst Defense Secretary in recent history,” has been a McCain hallmark of recent weeks. He can plausibly claim that had his advice been followed from the start, Iraq would be a much better place, very useful in a party that is sick of incompetence, and yet still optimistic about the war. There is also a good chance that they will elect somebody likely to win, not necessarily one who agrees with them entirely, like the Democrats choosing Kerry in 2004. However Giuliani is more likely to be this person. Trumpeter feels that McCain is too old, too moderate for conservatives, too conservative for moderates, and now too linked with Bush’s surge to win either nomination or the general election.
The ex-Governor of Massachusetts has had an interesting career, if only for the fact that he, a man gunning for the conservative wing of the Party, was not long ago the governor of the Union’s most liberal state, this is the case. The key to his campaign is competence, he can claim a good few managerial triumphs; as a businessman he ran efficient and profitable enterprises, he helped rescue the Salt Lake City Olympics, which was running over-budget and late as well as rolling out the country’s first statewide universal health care programme, which other governors now seek to emulate. Also he, of all the three front runners, should appeal most to the evangelical and Christian crowd; he is anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage and anti-embryonic stem cell research. This, combined with his credible stance on the preservation of family values (he is the only top candidate to have had only one wedding and a stable family life, where Giuliani has had three, McCain has had two and Gingrich three) should give him a very good chance of gaining the crucial Christian vote. It, however, will probably not. One of the few things the Christian Right dislikes as much as liberalism is inconsistency and while he may have been a consistently good technocrat, his views appear to have changed with the wind. When first running for his state, he claimed to be more liberal (very) than his opponent, now he is running for presidency in a conservative party, he has ditched old views for more expedient ones. Many on the Christian right-wing also distrust his Mormonism, believing that is is heretical or even un-Christian. Trumpeter believes that while Romney could make a good President, a change from the current incompetent regime to a competent one, but he, like his father before him, will fail to win the nomination. We all remember how John Kerry was hounded for being a “flip-flopper”, poor Mitt has almost certainly changed his mind one too many times.
Who would Jesus vote for? “Sam Brownback!”, his supporters cry. The senator from Kansas is truly the darling of the Christian, mainly evangelical, right. With the three front runners having, at best, mixed relationships with the evangelical wing, Brownback has a good chance, probably being the strongest of the dark horse candidates. He describes the ongoing and legally sanctioned practice of abortion as a “holocaust,” opposes gay marriage and civil partnership, opposes embryonic stem cell research, is committed to fighting poverty and strife in Africa (being one of the first voices to call the Darfur situation “genocide” and arguing for intervention) and is increasingly opposed to the death penalty, claiming it does not square with the “culture of life.” Though Trumpeter can only agree with the last two of these, the Christian right tend to agree with the first four. This is not to say that he will not have to fight for the Christian vote. They will split between him, Hunter, Tancredo and Huckabee. The key problem with Brownback is that he has virtually no chance of winning a general election. He is more extreme on social issues than Bush and is one of the crowd that believes that the President has not done enough to fight the moral war at home, and has spend too much energy fighting abroad to stop the liberals. In this, he is part of a sizable minority, sizable but still a minority. He also has a haziness on foreign policy, calling for greater aid to Africa and more effort in the fight against corruption, but having few ideas as to how this could be achieved. He also opposes the troop surge, but provides no alternative but the status quo. If the Republicans choose him, or any of the other right wingers, they will be choosing their George McGovern, a man capable of winning the core vote and little else. Then again, I have been wrong before.
The Baptist preacher-come-Governor of Arkansas comes from the very same town as Bill Clinton; Hope. Both have governed their state. Both have spent much of their life fighting desire. With Bill it was sex, with Mike it has always been food; he was once obese, but over the last ten years he has stopped being a “foodaholic” and become a recovering one. One of his key messages is a drive for healthier living. Like Bill, he is also a musician, playing the bass to Clinton’s sax. This is about where the similarities end. Mr Huckabee has none of the charm of Clinton, little of the potential, and a dishonesty that lies in his ideology, not his lack of it. He is a politician appealing to the most reactionary wing of the Republican Party, competing with the more charismatic Brownback, the nastier Hunter and the more nativist Tancredo. These voters are more likely to be turned off by Brownback’s rabble-rousing, Hunter’s venom and Tancredo’s paranoia than by Mike’s niceness. Some on the right have floated the idea of a Hunter/Huckabee alliance, both are said to have mutual respect. He suffers the same polarising flaw as the the other three, and will not be America’s next President unless a miracle transpires.
One of the few qualities that Trumpeter can find to like about Duncan Hunter is that he does not have any hope of becoming President. He is the most extreme of the four right-wing dark horses. I have struggled through interviews, speeches and articles and all I have found to agree with is a commitment to a balanced budget and low tax. Otherwise it has all been arrogant, misinformed, cruel and paranoid. On Israel’s security barrier, which cuts deep into what is legally Palestinian land, he says: “Well, I think I’ve learned one thing and that’s that fences work and the walls work and separations work.” For a man who describes Ronald “tear down that wall” Reagan as “my soul mate”, this seems a little odd. By the same token it is odd that he opposed the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he claims (erroneously) takes away jobs and damages the economy. He is also a strong supporter of immigration crackdowns, building a wall along the land borders and making life for immigrants difficult. These populist ideas, combined with ultra-conservative stances on other social issues, could give him a chance of taking the votes of the right by reinvigorating them, making them believe their cause is not lost. However, he supports the war in Iraq to a greater degree than any other man in the race, claiming that it is the last in a long line of benevolent military interventions like Japan, the Philippines and El Salvador (seeming to have forgotten Vietnam, Cambodia and Nicaragua). He seems to be in denial about the state of affairs inIraq. He even said Don Rumsfeld “did a good job.” Even the right are beginning to turn against the war, and they will probably not vote for somebody with such an incredible position on it, neither will they vote for someone with such a tiny chance of victory. He is one of those people who is so arrogant that he named his son, Duncan, after himself; I cannot see people choosing him, but then again, does anybody remember George?
The congressman from Colorado is campaigning for nomination by appealing to the paranoia many Americans feel about the huge-scale immigration of Hispanics from Mexico. He may have got into trouble recently over a comment about bombing Mecca, but he can claim that it was a rash slip made in response to a hypothetical question, and it will endear him to a reactionary right wing who were all too happy to look past George Bush’s verbal mistakes, but find it hard to forgive his pro-immigration stance. He ticks all the right boxes for the Christian “litmus test” issues, but mainly appeals to the nativists, who are not always the Christian Right. He stands little chance of winning, and probably hoping to register as a protest vote and gain enough delegates to make a speech at the summer convention as well as raise his profile. He is not purely insular, he has, prompted by the Columbine and Beslan school attacks (he is something of a Russophile), spent much time raising money for victims and has been, with Brownback, one of the leading voices in the Republican party for action on Darfur.
One of those worthy, low-profile challengers who does not really have a strong ideological message, simply believes that he would be the best man for the job. He feels that partisanship has crippled politics and likes to come up with “common-sense”, non-ideological solutions. He has done this most notably with a plan to split Iraq into three, along ethnic lines, with each getting a share of oil revenue. This plan may be awful, almost certainly precipitating a regional war over the formation of Kurdistan and then not really preventing, maybe hastening, total civil war, but it is an eye catching prospect, which could draw voters naive enough to think it would work. They were naive enough to think the war would work in the first place. While some of his ideas may be laudable, and others at least attractive to some, he just does not have the standing or media clout to make an impact in a crowded field.
The former Texan Democrat who switched to the Republican Party after the 1994 Republican victory in both houses of Congress, impressed by the “Contract With America” and its low-tax, anti-government and pro-business message, is the key libertarian contender within the Republican field. He is a member of the Republican Freedom Caucus within Congress, a group which believes in economic and social freedom and minuscule government. Of all the Republican candidates, he is Trumpeter’s favourite, but stands no chance of winning.
The retiring Governor of Virginia has spent his term limit and is running a rather unlikely campaign for Presidency. He appeals mainly to the conservatives in the party, he lacks the appeal of the other conservative candidates and is really only running in order to gain enough publicity for a Senate run.
The first man to formally enter the race, he has failed to make a stir and is virtually unknown, he has had failed runs for the Illinois Senate and Congress as a conservative, and will now have a failed run for Presidency.
The former congressman from Georgia, who is of Pennsylvania Dutch descent, is one of the most colourful figures of US politics. Though he has not stated whether he will run, he is the Republican Al Gore figure, possessing such clout that he could enter late. He was the key architect of the 1994 “Republican Revolution” that saw the GOP (Republican Party) sweep to power in Congress for the first time in forty years. He was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and for the first two years in this role managed to push through a vast raft of reforms aimed at limiting government. This spurred Gingrich, rather egotistical as he is, to consider himself America’s first Prime Minister. He then became increasingly confrontational with President Clinton, pushing, with Ken Starr, for his impeachment, an awful mistake only resulting in Clinton’s popularity soaring. All of the good will had been squandered and all people saw was a “do nothing” congress who were more interested in point-scoring against the President than making things better for ordinary people. In 1998, when the Republicans lost seats, almost unheard of for an opposition party in mid-term elections, Newt quit and left Congress. Since then he has published “Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America”, which has been seen by many as hailing his return to front-line politics. Since ’98, the Party and to an extent, the country, has begun to view him in a more sympathetic light, looking back at his struggle for slim government with affection, particularly in comparison to the bloated state of the Bush administration. He is also a favourite with the socially conservative wing, and may be able to unite the party along the same lines as he did more than a decade ago. Somehow, I think that Newton Leroy Gingrich has too much history and is too divisive to run, but he is the one to watch.
The Senator from Nebraska and Vietnam veteran is touted by many as the only anti-war candidate for the Republican Party. That he is neither anti-war nor a candidate does not seem to bother them. He has been a consistent critic of the Iraq war and speaks emotively of how young men are being used as pawns in a game that is being played for political reasons, not fought for freedom. He is one of the very few Senators to support motions symbolically opposing the troop surge and Dick Cheney has stated “Ronald Reagan said “Never speak ill of a fellow Republican”… this is difficult when it comes to Chuck Hagel”. In my opinion he could only really run if the war becomes considerably worse in the next few months, if it does not, that lingering feeling that he is a little bit of a traitor, and his lack of domestic policy clout, will leave him an implausible candidate.
The abrasive radio host and prominent right-winger is considering a run; it would be a publicity stunt. He has no previous experience in front-line politics. He is a popular among some for writing controversial and often unpleasant books like “The Savage Nation”.
While this field of contenders is certainly not as odd and extraordinary as the Democratic one, it is even less predictable and just as interesting. The Democrats have major candidates to appeal to everyone within their party, while the Republicans do not, so don’t be surprised if, in fifteen months time, a near unheard of is running a challenge for the Presidency. Do not be surprised either if they achieve the difficult and win; since Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Republican run, they have only lost three of ten presidential elections despite undergoing a complete base shift from north to south, from being the party of the modern liberal north, to become the party of the individualist, conservative south. The odds are against them, but never underestimate a Republican.